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Subject: ARCHIVE: June 29, 1947 ~This is the fascinating story of forgotten Hollywood designer VERA WEST, whose memorable silver screen wardrobe designs include the films "Dracula" (1931), "Destry Rides Again" (1939), and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) designing Elsa Lanchester's bridal gown, but whose mysterious death at 47, overshadowed her career. ...

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Date Posted: Monday, June 29, 03:35:34pm

Vera West
(28 June 1898 or 28 June 1900 - 29 June 1947)

Costume Designer Vera West received notoriety as an American film costume designer in the first half of the 20th century.

The details of West's early life are unclear. Some sources put her birthdate as 28 June 1898, others as 28 June 1900, and her birthplace is variously given as Philadelphia or New York. She attended the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. After graduation, West designed dresses for a high-end fashion salon on Fifth Avenue in New York. In the mid-1920s, she was forced to leave New York for unknown personal reasons. She eventually went to Hollywood, where she found a job with Universal Pictures and rose to become chief costume designer for the film studio in 1928.

Little is known about her early years; while one source states her birth state was New York, a couple of census records document Vera F. West's birth state as Pennsylvania. She trained at the Philadelphia School of Design and went to New York City where she was mentored by British couturier Lady Duff-Gordon under the label of “Lucile.” She held one of the first runaway presentations to show her designs. After successfully designing clothes for a group of elite, wealthy clients just off 5th Avenue, she lost her position for some reason. There has been published speculations on the reason: a crime was committed, an illicit romance, or an illegitimate birth. At this point, she headed west for Hollywood where she found success for twenty years with Universal Studios.

...In 1924 she was hired to replace the retiring “Mother” of design, Lucia Coulter. Eventually, as the Head Costume Designer for Universal Studios, she produced mainly female lead roles costumes for nearly 400 movies from 1928 through 1947. The first production for which she made costumes based on her own designs was the film The Man Who Laughs (1928) by German director Paul Leni, based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. According to IMDb, West has at least 393 film credits. She specialised in gowns, and was not only responsible for dressing the actors, but also saw to their off-film personal styling.

Her debut film for Universal Studios, Lon Chaney's “The Man Who Laughs” was in 1928. First, she was noted for her costumes during the Golden Age of Horror movies, such as “The Bride of Frankenstein” in 1935, and “Dracula,” with the leading lady wearing a suit or business dress in the first scene, then an evening gown in the next, and the last scene “something” white such as a bride's dress or a night gown. Not limited to horror movies, she designed costumes for dramas, mysteries, and even a few comedies. She became famous for her silky, form-fitting gowns with the movie credits and dress labels simply reading “Vera.”

Elsa Lanchester in her Vera West designed "Wedding"
gown in 1935's "Bride of Frankenstein". ...

Dorothy Lamour's Vera West sarong ...

...In her over 300+ films, West helped created wardrobe design for films like, films "Dracula" (1931), "Destry Rides Again" (1939), and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935),
"Buck Privates" (1941), "Pardon My Sarong" (1942), "Phantom of the Opera" (1943), "The Killers" (1946), and "The Egg and I" 1947), her last film.

Ava Gardner wearing a gown designed by West in The Killers (1946), ...

In 1946 she left the studio to open her own boutique in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel catering to the wives of those in the film industry. Her last film was “The Egg and I,” which was released in March of 1947, but she was not listed in the credits. The circumstances of her death adds to her notoriety with the media coverage. According to her obituary and other newspaper articles, she drowned wearing only a nightgown in her swimming pool the day after her 47th birthday. She was found at 3 AM by a photographer who was renting her guest house. There were two notes left addressed to “Jack Chandler” stating that she had been blackmailed for twenty-three years and death was the only way to end it. She did not name the blackmailer or the reason. Even though her death was ruled a suicide, many believe that she may have been murdered. West was interred in a niche in the Columbarium of Inspiration, at Glendale Forest Lawn Cemetery. ...

She was married to Jacques “Jack” West, a salesman for a cosmetic firm, who was out of town at the time of her death. Shortly, after her death, he demolished their custom-built home, sold the land, and then vanished. He also stated he knew of no money missing from their accounts that could have been used to pay a blackmailer. She was inducted to the Costume Designer Guild Hall of Fame in 2005.

Links ....

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